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Max Wolf Valerio by wall


"I live my life inside an ongoing paradox.

Ambiguity and peril."


Max Wolf Valerio,

The Joker Is Wild

Changing Sex + Other Crimes of Passion

by Max Wolf Valerio

Life in the Border Regions:

Max as woman, praying, with spiky hair

Transsexuality and bisexuality both occupy heretical thresholds of human experience. We confound, illuminate and explore border regions. We challenge because we appear to break inviolable laws. Laws that feel "natural." And quite possibly, since we are not the norm or even average, it is likely that one function we have is to subvert those norms or laws; to break down the sleepy and unimaginative law of averages.

Transsexual science fiction writer Rachel Pollack has often called transsexual identity an experience of revelation. I like to call it a crime of passion, a moving target for bores and narrow-minded fuss-buckets, a necessary and inevitable subversion of the quotidian law of averages. After all, changing sex is a nearly savage act of body modification occupying a charged realm far beyond our culture's current obsession with "safety."

Transsexuals and bisexuals can both celebrate the capacity of human beings to experience and claim revelation. The bisexual breaks the rule that you must choose between man and woman; the transsexual violates the rule that you must be recognizably and distinctly either a man or a woman your entire life from birth to death. The idea that people carry within them the capacity and the desire to radically alter their biological sex and social gender -- or the ability to love and lust after both men and women, or one sex then the other -- is experienced by many as heresy. The willful claiming of a unique and perplexing revelation.

Along with Anything That Moves, I celebrate the human capacity and right to change, rediscover, reinvent and continuously experience revelation; to reevaluate and to renounce any aspect of myself that is no longer authentic; to live beyond my own fears and preconceived notions as well as those of the people around me. Without a doubt, anything can be revealed at any moment. Without a doubt, anything usually is. And although I am not actually bisexual at this time, I claim the right to change my mind.


In millennial culture, the Joker's Wild

-- Mark Dery, World Art
(Spring 1996)


I watch myself in the mirror, shirt off, pants slung down past my hip bones. The scars are fading and the contour of my chest looks tight. My pecs have definition, and the nipples and areolas are well placed, not too high and not too low.

My areolas are small like the inside of a nickel; they appear to be the right size. When I turn to the side, there's a slight indentation between my pecs, muscles defined, a symmetry. If I work out I'll get more cut. When I do the results show right away. That's different than before, when I was a woman.

An old girlfriend once remarked that most men tell war stories -- "Back when I was in the war..." -- whereas I would say, "Back when I was a woman..."

For 32 years I lived inside a woman's body. Although I resisted femaleness on and off throughout my life, I learned to speak the language of women, to pass unseen among them. I was both part of their world and apart from it, alien and peer, feeling male inside yet living the life of a woman. I learned a lot. What I learned is still with me, even as I transform, even as my emotional moorings shift and my body recreates itself from female to male.

I'm an agent provocateur, behind the lines, a translator.

This is really the unthinkable thing, a sex change. The clinics and doctors don't try to persuade you to have one -- they'll do anything to dissuade you.

People like me have always existed, in every era, on every continent. In some cultures, we were allowed to assume the roles and lifestyles of our preferred gender, but now we can go further than we ever could before. Because of the discovery and synthesis of the sex hormones estrogen and testosterone, which induce the development of primary and secondary male and female sexual characteristics, I can do more than simply live in the world in the male role. I can actually become chemically and hormonally male and transform physically into a man.

My life is one of the extravagant experiments of the 20th century.

You never know who you are talking to. You never know what you will do someday, and what you are capable of.

Changing sex is an act of subverting nature's implacable authority, of uncovering and displaying nature's hidden cacophony, its subtext of sabotage and dissolution. Transsexual men are real. Nature is an evolving paradigm of conflicting tendencies and escalating discoveries; transsexuals hold a funhouse mirror up to nature. We reimagine identity, sexuality, biological sex and gender. We get to live out our childhood dreams.

I bathe in the delightful and sensuous machinery of sexual differentiation.

I look good in the rude perfume of decaying boundaries.

I've gone through a number of rites of passage. Some have taken me by surprise. Although not subject to sexual harassment on the street any longer, I've been threatened with explosive physical violence more times as a guy than as a woman.

I live my life inside an ongoing paradox.

Ambiguity and peril.

Post-modernism suits me. And sorcery...

A shaman has three marks to indicate that he or she has completed initiation: scars, a new name, a secret.

In many cultures transsexuals, transgendered and intersexed people were shamans and tricksters -- jokers.

I have donated my body to science.

The joker is wild!


Max with cigar Transsexuality is a phenomenon. Awesome with cloaked paradoxes. Unknowable. Ranging far from accepted cultural beliefs and practices. It instigates re-examinations of identity as well as the methods and practices that enable us to know or perceive identity.

Identity as will, as having the agency to restructure the very body it inhabits.

Transsexuals are agent provocateurs on the edges of a culture hurtling headlong into a century where technology will interface on an escalating basis with our bodies and consciousness. We are the furthest, most extreme expression of manipulation of the body, almost as though that body, that human stretch of flesh, were a piece of plastic, or some other nearly synthetic, malleable substance. We restructure our glands, our body fluids, skin, nerves and genitals. Our lives are recovered by science, the oblique point of reference for an expanding arc of transformation.

We are thieves of technology for the will of an inscrutable and delicious fate. Some call it choice; others, destiny.

How many people have had the experience of living both as a man and as a woman? Of experiencing the hormonal surges, of wearing the skin and muscles, the shifting moods, the social, spiritual and historical onus of both sexes?

Because we have lived the impossible, what was previously only dreamed about, we must demand to be known and understood as precursors, explorers, as well as brave, poignantly human men and women, just folks. We are prophets of a richly complex net of perceptions, dialogues; radically violent instrumentalities of transformation concerning sex, gender, body modification and identity. Ancient archetypes whisper or sing to us that we are connected to archaic, abiding images of man and woman in our essence, even from within our seeming contradictions. We intensify the archetypes of maleness and femaleness in order to see through them, to live past them, to fully and completely reconfigure their meaning.

By becoming a man I became all men and developed a new compassion for maleness and femaleness as it is lived in this culture. What previously appeared to be sexist posturing or empty role-playing took on the texture and vulnerable complexities of a passionate panoply, richly lived, real. Real, as in abiding, reasonable, rooted in experience that is lived, not conspired, not counterfeit. A reality with contradictions, genuine feeling and insoluble, although difficult, meaning.

I've come to a more complete understanding of why people act in the ways they do. I'm not as quick to judge men or, for that matter, women. I no longer have subtle feelings of superiority because of being on a "politically correct" side (in my case, the feminist side). I'm not as dogmatic or defensive. I feel so much more human, although I'm actually more spectacular and strange than ever before. I feel so much freedom now that I've done my deepest will and shattered my old life in the course of it.


"I'm in league with nature's lucidity and hunger, with Blake's devil whose 'energy is eternal delight'... I'm in league with technology and big dreams that ignite people with hope and pleasure..."

Because of my transformation, I've had to increasingly re-examine my assumptions concerning sexuality, the differences between men and women, the social and biological constructions and foundations of gender identity, the motivating impulses constructing culture.

This is one of the great opportunities that this transition brings to transsexual people, if we are equal to taking it on: Freedom, knowledge, and the ability to participate in mystery. The mystery that our lives become once we have changed our sex and eluded all expectations of how and who we are; and the mystery that we find the world to be, as we take part in it from the vantage point of complete strangers, alien to and yet intimately familiar with each sex, knowing that just as we are not simple, nothing and no one else is either. The world is a stretching, shaking net wild with biologically rooted instinct, flashes of intuitive, abstract thought forms encoding and creating culture, inchoate dream sequences, yearnings that search and destroy all assumptions, all dogmatic, wishful thinking. It's a jungle and we're in it, alive with the certainty of hounds in a war zone.

I have changed my sex. Future generations of transsexuals will only do it more thoroughly as biotechnology becomes more refined. The previously unthinkable range of that transformation has actually wed us more deeply to the rest of humanity. On the margins, the periphery, is where the middle expanses are most easily viewed.


Being transsexual is not a unilateral political movement, a religion or a cult group. It is not my job to educate society or change it to some utopian, and possibly dystopian, glob of multi-gendered thingness. I believe that transsexuals must continue to fight for our civil rights, for affordable, competent health care, for the right to live as ourselves with respect and dignity.

Changing sex is radical because it is extreme, far-fetched, and magical, not because of any imagined alliance to any particular political ideology. I am not interested in a sanctimonious "movement", where being "transgendered" becomes a self-referential lifestyle or is tethered to an ideologically arch set of political values.

I'm interested in inquiry, imagination, the transmutation of elemental psychic energies. I don't have an ax to grind in terms of making everyone give up some "bi-polar" gender system. Hey -- I like being a guy and I like it when women enjoy that and like being women. The man/woman dynamic turns me on big time. Boy/girl, like animals rutting. Basic. Old fashioned. Bi-polarized...

Politics of the left and right bore me, and strike me as short-sighted. Too much bad art, too many dead bodies. Chairman Mao, Stalin and Hitler had a lot in common. Fidel Castro jails queers and writers. These people thought that they were controlling people's thoughts, bodies and destinies for the good of all. They believed in a totalization of identity, a structured utopia.

I'm in league with nature's lucidity and hunger, with Blake's devil whose "energy is eternal delight," as well as the primeval, mischevious Id that drives Pan to manhandle and seduce any sex goddess you can think of with his big, hairy hands and his pipes. I'm in league with technology and big dreams that ignite people with hope and pleasure -- the future, an escalation of biological invention we can't yet imagine.

Freedom, brisk and invigorating. Not a Hallmark experience. Not a therapy. Nothing trite or sentimental, nothing preachy or unctuous. Nothing so easy, safe, or formulaic. No comfort zones masquerading as truth.

I'm searching for an unpredictable, body-wrenching experience.


Max Wolf Valerio is a poet, writer and performer who has appeared in many documentaries, including the "Max" short in Female Misbehavior (by Monika Treut) and You Don't know Dick: Courageous Hearts of Transsexual Men (by Candace Schermerhorn and Buster Cam). He will also be appearing in Monika Treut's up-and-coming documentary on gender called The X/Y Files.

In the meantime, Max is finishing up his long-delayed memoir, The Joker is Wild! -- Changing Sex and Other Crimes of Passion and hopes to have it published as soon as he can find a new publisher who will allow him to be as dangerous as is necessary. This chapter is the prologue. Max has also written a chapbook, Animal Magnetism, is working on at least one other book of poetry, and envisioning a novel, The Church of the Transsexual Jesus.

This article originally appeared as "Transsexuality, Science and Prophecy" in the anthology Transgender Care (Temple University Press, 1997; written and edited by Gianna E. Israel, with Donald E. Tarver II, MD).

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